HC Deb 26 February 1823 vol 8 cc264-88
Mr. Whitmore

rose, pursuant to notice, to bring under the consideration of the House, the Laws relating to the trade in Corn. He would, in the outset, touch upon the objections which he understood were made to his introduction of the subject. In the first instance, it was objected, that the discussion could only tend, from the want of practical result, to increase the despondency already so extensively felt. He differed entirely from those who started the objection. Though there should be no practical result, yet he was convinced that a rational discussion would have a considerable effect in dispelling alarm, and when he felt that the law was the cause of the distress experienced, and the very root of the evil, he could not feel that he did his duty if he neglected to introduce the subject to the consideration of parliament. With reference to any objection as to the time of discussion, he would say, that if he had taken a right view of the question, no time could be unpropitious for its consideration; and he should think the present time well adapted to that discussion; for, in the considera- tion of a law affecting the necessary food of the people, it was of the greatest importance, that any debate relative to an alteration should take place, when that alteration appeared to be prospective, and when the passions of the people not being excited, a degree of tranquillity prevailed, which was most favourable to a right view of the subject. He acknowledged, that in coming to a decision on this question, he had felt great difficulty. It was one of vast magnitude, and of complicated interest, but he trusted he should be able, without occupying much of the time of the House, to place his view fully before them. He considered, that the main feature of the question affecting the agricultural interests, was the principle of fluctuation; and here he felt it right to state, that he wished to keep the question of the currency as separate as possible from the present, that the House might more easily form a right view of both. He would, in illustration of his view, suppose that a law, similar to the Corn bill, had been adopted in Holland, which was an importing country, to a considerable extent. Suppose, then, such a law in Holland, there would be high prices for some years—a great appropriation of capital to agriculture—poor soil brought into cultivation—the breaking up of old pastures. Now, supposing the extent of territory sufficient, there would at length be in average years, a produce sufficient for the consumption of the country; and it was quite obvious abundant crops would give considerably more than the necessary consumption. The superabundant quantity so produced would fall back on the market; the produce would, in consequence, fall in price, until it came down to that of the corn in the exporting markets. The result would be very considerable distress—destruction of capital—destruction of soil on account of the abstraction of manure—poor land forced out of cultivation—and, instead of abundance, there would be in two or three years a positive deficiency. Thus it appeared, that such a law could only operate, either in producing a superabundance and glut, which brought ruin to the farmer; or a great want, which, he believed, in the end would be as injurious to the farmer as to other classes of the community. He drew this state of things with respect to Holland; and, if they looked to England, they would find that, from the similar character of the state, the operation of the law must be the same. England had been, as to agricultural produce, an importing country, as well as Holland. Let them look to the year 1815, the one subsequent to the war. The events of that year were acted upon by the peculiar circumstances of the war. The year before, the crop had been poor, and the demand very great. In that year, an important reaction took place. In that year the bill, which, sooner or later, must be repealed, was passed. There were high prices in consequence at the close of 1816, and they the continued in 1817 and 1818. In 1817, wheat was 80 shillings a quarter; in the beginning of 1818 it was 84 shillings a quarter. In 1819, prices fell, and succeeding good crops kept them down. That of 1820 was abundant, and that of 1821 was a good average crop, though somewhat injured in quality. This abundantly bore out the analogy of his supposed case of Holland to that of this country.—He was now about to open to the House a consideration which he thought of the greatest importance. He had long been persuaded that they had arrived at that period when the low prices had reached their term, and when, therefore, they were bound to contemplate different prospect—one which, if not providently viewed, was likely to be attended with considerable danger. He felt thoroughly persuaded, that the consumption now apparent, and arising out of the low price, was going on at a rate which could not be long supported; more particularly as foreign speculation was in some degree at a stand in the corn market; and, if they looked at home, tehy would find that the greater part of the stock of the farmers had already gone through the miller's hands in course of use, and that the remaining store in the hands of the farmers was considerably less than it ought to be at this season of the year. He had documents to establish this fact, and, without trespassing on the patience of the House, he hoped to be permitted to refer to one of them, in support of the view which he took of this part of the subject. It was a letter he had recently received from a man of great authority in matters of this kind—Mr. Cropper, of Liverpool; which stated that, although they must rely a great deal on general principles in applying facts connected with the extent of the growth and the rate of consumption, yet that the main occurrences of the market were clear, and could not be mistaken; and the writer went on to state, in surveying the crops for several years; first, that the crop of 1820 was abundant, and was also attended with a great foreign importation; that in 1821 the crop, though particularly wet, was still an average produce, while that of 1822 was something below an average crop. The consumption of wheat in 1821 showed an increase of 7¼ per cent, as compared with that of the preceding year; but the increase of 1822, as compared with that of 1821, was an advance of 22 per cent. This great increase of consumption was owing to the advanced wages of the manufacturing classes throughout the country; indeed, in some places, the improved choice of food had almost cast brown bread, previously so much in demand amongst the humbler classes, out of use; and he knew some friends, who in their neighbourhood in the country were unable to procure it. In Lancashire, too, the oaten cake, so generally used by the people, was disappearing, and a better sort of bread substituted in its place. In this way the consumption was going on at a far greater rate than the growth; and the prospective difficulty was, how an eventual supply was obtainable, if matters were permitted to rest upon their present footing. In common times, perhaps, there would be no necessity for adopting some prospective measure; but these were not common times, when such a subject could he overlooked. It was material, when they saw that the manufacturing classes were using the best wheat, and laying aside the inferior quality, to look at the inevitable consequences of the alteration.—With respect to the general state of the country as to its capacity of production, he had several documents, but he should merely state to the House the result of the information which they contained; and it was, that a very great deterioration of soil had taken place; the poor farmers and others, and particularly in Nottinghamshire, being unable to purchase the necessary manure for fertilization. In some places, this led to a falling off to an extent of nearly one-half, in others it was two-thirds, and so on, at various diminished rates. Lime formed a material ingredient in manure, and, in a limework of his own, he had an opportunity of knowing the reduced amount of sale. His average sale for ten years was 42,681 bushels; but, in 1820, it was 30,331 bushels; in 1821 it was 30,528; and in 1822 it was only 20,790. Suppose this reduced cultivation were accompanied by a bad harvest, who could look at such an event without serious alarm? It was on this ground, that he called on them to provide in time a remedial measure. The state of the farmers was one of progressive ruin; and yet they were told, they had a protecting price. It would be nearer the mark to call it a destructive and a ruinous price. Before he adverted to the alteration which it was his intention to propose in the existing law, he would briefly review the effects of the present law, politically and commercially considered. And first, with regard to its political tendency, he was persuaded that nothing could be more calculated to subject the country to the greatest peril. The law would either answer the purpose for which it was framed, or it would not. If it did not answer its purpose, it was contemptible below ridicule. If it did answer its purpose, in what situation might not the country be placed by its operation? The effects of it would be totally at variance with all that had been hitherto considered as practically beneficial in the country: they would be at variance with all that union of interests which had hitherto constituted the strength of the country: they would be at variance with all that feeling which had hitherto caused the aristocracy of this country to be considered as the friends and protectors of the other classes of the community. In vain was such an attachment as that to which he last alluded, looked for in any other country than in England; and every circumstance by which it was endangered in this country, also endangered the public tranquillity. With regard to the operation of the existing law upon trade, the effects of it must be in the highest degree injurious to those manufactures which it ought to be our object to promote; as on them so materially depended our strength and prosperity. Instead of exposing manufactures to danger so imminent, every effort ought to be made to prevent our manufacturers from being tempted to withdraw their capitals to other countries; and thereby to deprive great masses of our population of employment. On that point we ought to take warning from the fate of other nations, once opulent, but now the abodes of poverty and distress. Let the House look at Italy:— —Not far removed the date, When commerce proudly flourish'd through the state: At her command the palace learn'd to rise, Again the long-fall'n columns sought the skies: The canvas glow'd beyond e'en Nature warm; The pregnant quarry teem'd with human form; Till, more unsteady than the southern gale, Commerce on other shores display'd her sail; While nought remain'd of all that riches gave, But towns unmann'd, and lords without a slave: And late the nation found, with fruitless skill, Its former strength was but plethoric ill. The alteration which it was his intention to propose in the present law, was to lower the import price 2s. a year, until it came down to 60s.; because he was thoroughly persuaded that foreign corn could not be brought, in any considerable quantity, into our markets, when the price was so low as 60s. Encumbered as the agriculturists were with the payment of the poor-rates, he certainly could not say that he was an advocate for a free trade in corn. But he maintained, at the same time, that it was altogether impolitic and unsafe to continue the duty at its present amount. It would be by no means politic, or even practicable, to continue the high duty, when corn should arrive at the scarcity price. It was impossible that foreign corn could be purchased abroad at a less rate than 38s. If the expense of freight, the profit to the merchant, the contingent losses, &c. were calculated, it would be evident, that with a duty of 12s., foreign corn could not be brought into the English market under 60s. All that was wanted by the country was, to avoid the injurious fluctuations that had of late years taken place in the price of corn, and to secure what might be considered as a fair level price. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving "for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Corn Laws."

Mr. Curwen

rose to condemn the unwise course which the hon. member had taken, in the introduction of this question. He should not feel that he was doing justice to the memory of a late statesman (the marquis of Londonderry), if he did not declare his conviction, that in the latter period of his life, that individual had done all that he could do, for the protection of agriculture. He (Mr. C.) did not wish for great protecting prices, but he wished to see every acre of land that could be made available, under cultivation. They had been told that remission of taxation would effect no relief to the agricultural interest; but, from the remission already effected, agriculture had, in fact, experienced the greatest relief. Under the present taxes, nothing short of an almost total failure of the crops could again bring up the price of corn to a scale which would keep the ports open. The hon. gentleman should have remembered, that, during the last twenty-two years, the state of agriculture in Europe had changed entirely. It had been at one part of that period estimated by Mr. Rose (a gentleman by no means unacquainted with these details), that in one season, all Europe together could not produce sufficient n heat for six weeks' consumption of England; namely, about 1,500,000 quarters. Now, however, if the ports were open, such would be the glut of this produce, that at least double the quantity would be imported. He thought every one would allow, that the general deterioration of agriculture in this country was great. Not only was there a vast deterioration of rents, but the ground itself had become immensely depreciated. The depreciation of soil, which was worth in 1814 as 22, was so great, that it was now worth only 18; and the effect of this upon produce had been, to make a difference, upon the average year, of 1,000,000 of quarters, or about one-half of what we imported from Ireland. Though he by no means approved of the law as it now stood, yet he believed it to be the best which we could have, under existing circumstances. All he asked for was, for prices: not such as would bear heavily on the manufacturing, or on any other interest in the country; but such as would enable the agriculturists to share in the general prosperity of the country. What had been suggested by the hon. gentleman would effect no sufficient relief. It was impossible that he (Mr. C.) should not rejoice in the flourishing condition of the revenue; but even that condition had as yet effected no sufficient relief. The chancellor of the exchequer had informed them, that he intended to take off 2,000,000l. of taxes, which would include 50 per cent on the assessed taxes. But, would that reduction be a sufficient relief to the landed interest? Could it be supposed that the landed interest, who had been compelled to give up their establishments, could resume them merely on this reduction? He did hope, that the right hon. gentleman would take off more than 2,000,000l.; although it could not be doubted that the remission of that sum would extend a great relief to the country in general. The taxes yet to be remitted should be those which bore on the poor; for then the employment at low wages would be a lesser evil than at present. He would suggest the propriety of repealing the duties on candles, on soap, and a few others, which materially pressed upon the cottagers. But, what should be done of all other things was, to take off the malt-duty. That was a matter which deeply affected, not merely the health, but the morals of the people. On every principle of morality and of domestic policy, he should like again to see the time, when the poor cottager would be enabled to brew his own beer—a beverage not more essential to his comfort and his strength, than to his happiness and well-being. Let those who could remember the times in which this class drank malt liquors only, contrast their condition at that period with their present appearance and situation, and the mischievous effects of spirituous liquors as the habitual drink of the poor labourer, would be most apparent. He was one of those, most undoubtedly, who would wish that a single quarter of foreign corn might never be imported into this country. The fact was, that during a long series of years, there never had been a period at which this country was labouring under any thing like a real, an actual scarcity: and the proof was, that when the ports were opened, the glut, although the importation lasted for only a fortnight, was enormous. He was rather for the existing law, than for the adoption of any alteration in it at present; and, on these grounds he should certainly oppose the hon. member's motion, though he did hope, that that hon. gentleman, looking to what appeared to be the manifest sense and opinion of the House upon the subject, would himself consent to withdraw it. The greatest of the evils that now depressed agriculture, was the number of our poor: and nothing would tend so much to reduce that number, as to remit the taxes which bore most heavily on the lowest classes of the labouring community. This to him appeared the surest means of re-establishing the prosperity of the country. If the chancellor of the exchequer only meant to take off this portion of the assessed taxes, he would do little or nothing towards effecting this particular object. If he (Mr. C.) were called upon to state his own view of the further measures of relief, which it was expedient to adopt, he would say, "Take off the candle-tax, which is one of 10s. yearly to every poor man in the country. Then, instead of the cottager's being compelled to give 7d. for his candles, he would pay only 3½d. for the pound. Take off, also, the tax from the windows of his cottage. It should be entirely remitted to every cottage of a rental under 5l.; and this measure would relieve almost every labouring cottager. Then take off the remaining tax on malt. The taxation on the preceding articles would amount to about 18s., and adding the malt, you would cause so material a reduction, that the effect would soon be to call into cultivation millions of now unprofitable acres." Whatever claims this great interest might seem to have on public or private debt, by reason of the alteration that had taken place in the standard of our currency, and the consequent value of money, he would be the last man in the world to propose going back to our former state, in regard to that subject. To disturb its present condition, would be, probably, more fraught with mischiefs, than any plan that could now be devised with a view to its alteration would be likely to have any beneficial effect. He did, however, call upon those whose peculiar duty it was, to consider most attentively, matters of this description; to watch narrowly the tone and temper of the times, and to administer some remedy for the intolerable distresses of the agricultural interest before it should be yet too late. Unless they did this, they would compel the country to call for any thing which would afford them relief. What was it which induced the freeholders of Norfolk to adopt the late petition? Was it the influence of the individual by whom it was proposed? Most certainly not. It was adopted because of the severe pressure under which the people laboured. And they might depend upon it, that unless some relief was afforded to the agricultural interests, the table of that House would be crowded with similar petitions from all parts of the country. The funded property was as well able as any other to bear its share of taxation. This had been decided by a court of law, so far back as the reign of George the 1st, and it only; required the explanation and arrangement of some local difficulties which at present existed. He hoped that those difficulties would be removed, and that funded property would be made to contribute its quota to the necessities of the state in the shape of taxes. By doing this, and by enforcing the most rigid economy in every branch of the public expenditure, they might avert the necessity of an act which he at present considered as unjust; but which, in the absence of retrenchment and reduction, would be, in a few years, called for by the greater part of the population.

Mr. Bolett

, of Wilts, said, he concurred in thinking that it would be better for the country to continue the law in question, as it at present existed, than to disturb it, by acceding to the motion. Part of the principle of that law was to give a bounty on the exportation, as well as to lay a duty on the importation, of corn. In this, also, he concurred; and, indeed, that great authority, Adam Smith, had laid it down as a maxim, "that any country which depended on another for any portion of its food, or actual subsistence, could be said to have no other than an ephemeral existence;" and Mr. Malthus had advanced the same position, in almost the same words. He would now take the liberty of submitting the result of some very careful calculations which he had made in relation to the subject before the House. In the first place, there had been a great cessation, or reduction of cultivation, since 1815. The income on taxes raised on the land in that year was fixed at 43,000,000l.; but that income had since become greatly reduced. The amount of taxation upon the cultivated laud was then at 58 per cent. Suppose that rents had subsequently been reduced—say 9l. per cent only—that would bring the amount of taxation, in fact, to 67 per cent. His next object was to show what had already been done, and what might yet be effected, in the reduction of this taxation. He was as anxious as the hon. member could be, for low prices. He considered, that they should be as low in this country as in any other in Europe: but to make them so, it was first necessary to keep as low as possible the price of cultivation; and that could only be effected by the reduction of the taxes which affected it. Taking, then, the total amount of taxation on the cultivation of land in this country to be 67 per cent, he came to the consideration of what portion of this amount had been reduced. They had done away with the tenant's property-tax, and that amounted to about 7½ per cent. They had next reduced the agricultural horse tax, which amounted to 1½ per cent. This last item was by many persons reckoned as a trivial one; but he maintained, that every one per cent which gentlemen could succeed in inducing government to take off from these taxes, was so much put into the pockets of the agriculturists. The farmer would, by-and-by, right himself: but the rent was, in effect, only the balance between the cost of cultivation and the price of produce. A reduction was next made on the malt-tax, amounting, on the farmer's home consumption, to about 1½ per cent. But there was a further reduction, owing to the price which barley had of late years sustained. The relative price of barley to wheat in the last year, had increased in the proportion of about one-third. In the present year, barley had been fetching 30s. per quarter, when the sack of wheat had been at 20s. only. Here, consequently, was an increase of barley price above wheat of 10s. This increase had been partly occasioned by the recent deficient crop of barley; but chiefly, perhaps, by its increased consumption. On this article, therefore, the further reduction might be assumed at 2½ per cent, this being equivalent to a total reduction on the malt tax of 4 per cent. He would now speak of a tax more important in its nature and operation, than any other of which he had spoken; he meant the salt tax. This was what might be called an indirect tax, but it bore upon almost every article of property which a farmer had; it bore upon the price of his manure, the price of his harness, and so forth. Now, the reduction on this duty, taken at the lowest rate, was equivalent to 7l. per cent on dairy land, and on arable, it might be about 3l. percent; yielding altogether 10l. per cent. Perhaps the fair average of the reduction would be, on laud generally, 5l. per cent: making a reduction altogether of 18 per cent upon the rental, arising out of the reductions effected in taxation on the cultivation of the land. This showed what beneficial effects were to be derived from persevering in a reduction of taxation. To prove that the depreciation of prices did not arise from an importation of corn, he observed that, for 64 years of the last century, wheat was at 32s. At that period, our exports of corn exceeded our imports; there being a duty on the one and a bounty on the other. In 1793, when our imports increased, wheat rose to 45s. per quarter. Here was a rise of 13s. per quarter, notwithstanding the import of the commodity had increased. The great pressure under which agriculture laboured, was the immense taxation with which they were borne down; in addition to this, they had the charge of the poor-rates. The price of labour had fallen in proportion to the reduction of the price of wheat, so that the burthens of the farmer increased as his resources diminished. The farmed might receive a certain extent of relief from the effect of low prices, by a reduction of his rent, but he could receive no relief from the injuries sustained in consequence of the late alteration in the currency, except through the interference of that House. He did not wish to interfere improperly with the right of the fund-holder, but he contended, that the land-bolder was as much entitled to protection against ruin and beggary, as the fund-holder could be. But, he repeated, that the only protection, the only effectual relief to be afforded to either, must be by means of a reduction of taxation, not only directly but indirectly. Many gentlemen imagined that they would directly derive great advantages from a reduction of certain taxes, while they overlooked the much greater advantages to be derived indirectly from a reduction of others. One gentleman might say, "Oh, I shall save 30l. by a reduction of the window tax, whereas my housekeeper tells me, that a reduction of the salt tax would not make a difference of more than 5l. or 10l. a year." Whereas, in point of fact, the salt tax, if reduced, would make, directly and indirectly, a saving of from 600l. to 800l. to that individual. He hoped ministers would see the necessity of repealing the taxes upon leather, tallow, and beer, particularly the latter. He was convinced that the repeal of those taxes which pressed upon the labouring classes would be more beneficial to the landed interest than any other measure of reduction. Bad as he conceived the existing corn law to be in principle, yet he would not consent to change it, unless he saw that it would be succeeded by one of a sounder principle; which he did not think would be the case.

Mr. Wodehouse

said, he gave the hon. member for Bridgenorth credit for the motives which had induced him to bring forward the present motion, although he felt himself compelled to differ from most of the arguments which the hon. member had used. The difference of opinion which seemed to prevail with respect to the cause of the agricultural distress was very remarkable. A few days ago they were told that the distress arose from a surfeit; they were now told, that they were threatened with starvation; so that, unless something extraordinary was done, he feared the country ran a great risk of dying of the doctor. The hon. member might suppose, that because he opposed this motion he had a hankering after the corn laws, and the high prices which it was once supposed they would insure. Be neither thought that a return to those prices was practicable, or desirable. In a conversation he had formerly had with the present president of the board of trade, who had said he would give the farmers an average of 64s. a quarter for the next ten years, he (Mr. W.) had said, "make that clear to us, and we shall have no ground of complaint." This bargain he was willing to renew now, and to give the right hon. gentleman last Monday's market to start with. The hon. mover had argued, that, in an importing country, the fluctuations of price would be inconsiderable; but it was to be remarked, that the years from 1792 to 1805, which had been great importing years, had been years of the greatest fluctuation. The fluctuations, which it was impossible to avoid perceiving during the war, were, indeed, attributed to the Berlin and Milan decrees; but these decrees did not come into operation before 1807. At all times had there been great fluctuations in the price of corn; long before the present corn laws existed. The Eton Register showed remarkable instances of these fluctuations: for example: In 1597, wheat was 3l. 9s. 6d. a quarter; in 1602, it was 1l. 9s. 4d.; in 1648, it was 4l. 5s.; in 1654, it was 1l. 6s.; in 1706, 1l. 6s.; in 1709, it was 3l. 18s. 6d. He (Mr. W.) had been much misrepresented, as having disparaged the talents of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), the author of the report of 1821; but, he had voted against that report on account of its silence as to the peculiar burthens that pressed upon agriculture, and the superficial view which was taken of the currency question; of the effects of which he formed perhaps an exaggerated estimate.—The hon. member proceeded to argue, that any calculations as to the price at which corn could be imported must be fallacious, and that the hon. mover had estimated it much too high. Mr. Claude Scott, in his evidence before the committee in 1814, had stated, that previously to the war, great quantities of corn were accumulating for exportation in Flanders and the Baltic, and that the price was governed by the demand. He stated also, that in 1789, he had purchased large quantities abroad for the government, to be delivered here at 40s. a quarter. According to Mr. Solly's evidence indeed, on the average of 49 years, from 1770 to 1819, the price of wheat at Dantzic had been 45s. The natural average Mr. Solly considered to be 35s., and that the demand in England would raise it to 50s., and that at that price only 700,000 quarters could be produced for exportation. In the opinion even of the hon. member for Portarlington, all their calculations must be fallacious; as the effect of price upon quantity would depend upon a variety of circumstances. He should certainly vote against the motion.

Mr. Huskisson

said, that if he had not been so pointedly alluded to, he should not have interposed to prevent the conclusion of the debate, which the House seemed anxious to arrive at. He had Dever complained of any remarks upon the report of 1821, or of any remarks upon what he himself had said; but he had deemed it improper, and contrary to usage, that a report which should be deemed the opinion of the committee collectively, had been ascribed to himself, an individual member of it. Many alterations had, indeed, been made in that report; not only not by him, but in opposition to his opinion. He would not attempt to follow the very desultory discussion which had taken place since the speech of the hon. mover. It was impossible for him to enter into all the details respecting the different modes of farming in use, the relative merits and demerits of land, and the remission of taxation. He would, however, express his satisfaction at the fact, that the country could, consistently with public credit, make a considerable remission of the burdens which weighed upon the people. The hon. member for Cumberland, when he attempted to show the relief that would be afforded to agriculture by the remission of two particular taxes, was not borne out by his own calculations. The hon. mem- ber had said, that every poor family consumed annually forty pounds of candles, the tax upon which amounted to 10s. He had looked at the tax upon candles, and he found that it amounted to 1d. per pound. Now, how a duty of a penny per pound could amount to 10s. upon forty pounds of candles, he could not perceive. The tax upon candles was not considerable; and it had not been increased since the reign of William 3rd. The hon. member had not been more fortunate in his selection of another tax, the remission of which, he said, would be highly beneficial to persons engaged in agriculture; namely, the window tax on houses of a certain description. The labourer in agriculture, unless his house had more than six windows, paid no tax at all; besides, the tax depended upon the house itself being rated to the extent of 5l. a year. He was not aware that any labourers in England paid house tax to that amount. He could not admit that the agricultural interest had any right to claim protection against the importation of corn, on the ground of general taxation. He would allow, that all taxes which affected agriculture only, ought to be repealed, if possible; but the hon. member for Wiltshire had alluded to taxes which pressed upon the artisan and manufacturer, equally with the farmer. He considered the discussion upon a subject which involved the best interests of the nation, as extremely important; but he did not think the present a fit time for making any alteration in the existing corn laws. In the first place, any important alteration in the corn laws could not be made with a partial and limited discussion and a temporary investigation; for, in the present state of the agriculturists, which, he was sorry to say, was the reverse of what he could wish it to be, no alteration could now be made, which could accommodate the various opinions of those who were interested. Few were agreed as to the particular remedy. There were not, he might almost say, any two surveyors of land who concurred in their opinion of its value, and of the relative situations upon which the present prices ought to place the landlord and tenant. If an accommodation of those varying opinions could take place, then an alteration founded upon it might be favourable. The committee which sat in 1821, had at least this effect—it had opened the eyes of the country to the mischiefs and difficulties of the system which had theretofore prevailed—it had shown, that monopoly was not at all times profit—that restriction did not, on all occasions, amount to protection—and that that which was nominally for the benefit of the landed interest, would not, in the alterations of prices in different years, be found to be consistent with their real advantage. It also appeared that, from the same causes, the having no restriction after the price was raised to 80s., might, in some cases, be found injurious. It was also shown, that the grower of corn in England was entitled to protection, in proportion to the difficulties of his cultivation, as compared with other countries; but that any thing beyond that would be found disadvantageous to the other branches of the community, if a great alteration took place in the prices in different years. Upon this view of the case, the report proceeded to suggest to parliament the propriety of a free trade, with only such restrictions as would protect the home grower, in proportion to the difficulties under which he cultivated. In this opinion the majority of the committee concurred: it also met with the sanction of his right hon. friend the chancellor of the exchequer, and that of a noble lord (Althorn), who took an active part in the committee of that and the succeeding year; but they also concurred in thinking, that, at that period of the year, it was too late to make any alteration. The next year a committee was appointed with the same objects as the former; and the result was, a recommendation to mitigate the principle of the bill of 1815, in the points to which he had adverted. But his right hon. friend and others thought, that the alteration ought not to be extended beyond the general feeling of the country at the time. At that time it seemed to be considered, that not only were the duties not too high, but not high enough. He felt, that a similar reason existed at the present day, for not carrying the alteration beyond the feelings of the interests concerned. At the same time, that he could not concur in the motion of his hon. friend, he felt obliged to him for the picture which he had drawn of the evils which might take place from the present system, by a great alteration in prices. He agreed that such might be the result of the present system, under particular circumstances; but he did not think there was any immediate fear of such circumstances. The remedy which should be applied, ought to be applied gradually, and according to the changes in the prices. He believed we had seen the worst of the low prices; for with the deterioration in cultivation (which he considered the most serious evil to the country), and the increase of consumption, he thought there was a fair prospect of that growth of prices, which would materially serve the agriculturists, without being a disadvantage to the other portions of the community. Under such circumstances, he put it to the hon. mover, whether the present was the exact time for such a measure as that which he had submitted. He thought a system of law which would continue the monopoly, would not be a permanent advantage to the agriculturists; but would considerably increase the burdens of the manufacturers. He would not go farther into the question at present. He thought the law as it now stood, as perfect as it could be made, consistently with the feelings of those interests which were concerned. We should wait for the re-action of one of the causes of the low prices; and then, by a modification of the law, we might have a regular and moderate importation, which would be the best regulator of prices that could be adopted. Fully impressed as he was with the justness of the principles of his hon. friend, he entreated him, for the present, to withdraw his motion.

Mr. Ricardo

said, that the right hon. gentleman, in all the arguments which he had brought forward for postponing the consideration of the corn laws, had in reality given a reason for proceeding at once to amend them. What was the danger which his hon. friend, who brought forward the present motion, apprehended? It was the danger of those very high prices, to the recurrence of which the right hon. gentleman looked forward, as the conjuncture when the corn laws might be amended. He apprehended the danger of capital being again drawn, by the temptation of high prices, to the land (and the right hon. gentleman agreed that the danger existed)—that there would again be a succession of low prices, and another loss of capital. This evil it was the object of the present proposition to prevent; yet the right hon. gentleman would wait till the evil came upon them, before he would provide the remedy. As to the motion of his hon. friend, he would not oppose it; because he should be glad of any approach to a free trade in corn. But he thought his hon. friend did not go far enough; he had left the mischief of a fixed price. Both his hon. friend and the right hon. gentleman had laid down the true principles of a corn law; namely, that a protecting duty should be imposed on foreign corn, equal to the peculiar burthens borne by the grower of corn in this country. But, when this was done, a fixed price should be done away altogether. In fact his hon. friend had seemed a little uncertain as to his fixed price. He had taken it at 60s.; but he had stated, that if foreign corn could he imported at 55s., he should have reduced it to that. He thought he had committed a great error in taking any fixed price at all. A duty should be imposed on corn imported, equal to the peculiar burthens borne by the grower of corn; and, in his opinion, a drawback or bounty to nearly the same amount should be allowed on corn exported. Then, and then only, would corn be kept at a price nearly equal in this, to what it was in other countries. If there was an abundant harvest, it would find a vent by means of the bounty; and, on the other hand, if there was a deficient supply, under the influence of the duty, corn would be introduced as it was wanted, and not in the enormous quantities poured in under the existing law, when the price rose to a certain height. The right hon. gentleman had objected to the proposition, because of the agitation it would create out of doors. But his hon. friend's proposition did not interfere with the present law, until the price of corn was as high as 80s. In this, also, he differed from his hon. friend; because, before corn was so high, that encouragement might be given to extensive cultivation, which it was his object to avert. He (Mr. R.) should recommend, that the law for the amendment of the corn laws should come into operation long before corn had reached 80s.; and he should then recommend a system of duties and bounties, at first in deference to those prejudices of which he thought they were too tender, higher than the amount of the peculiar burthens of the agriculturists, and gradually diminishing to an equality with the computed amount of those burthens. He could not in any way agree with his hon. friend, the member for Cumberland, nor with the hon. member for Wiltshire, who had entered into some strange calculations, to show that the agriculturist paid taxes to the amount of 67 per cent. But, on what did the hon. member reckon this per centage? Not on the expense of growing corn, but on the rent. This was a most unwarranted mode of calculation. They had it in evidence before the agricultural committee, that there was some land in England which did not pay above 2s. an acre rent; yet, no doubt, as the cultivation of that land was heavy, there were in truth taxes on the producer which did not affect the landlord, and taxes on the landlord which did not affect the producer, If a tax was imposed directly on the production of corn, the grower would remunerate himself, not by a deduction from the landlord's rent, but by getting more from the consumer. And as to general taxes, they pressed alike on all classes; on the labourer who worked at the loom, as well as on the labourer who worked at the plough. He hoped his hon. friend would not withdraw his motion. The greatest good would be done by bringing the question before the House. His hon. friend's speech abounded in excellent principles, which could not fail of producing an effect upon gentlemen in that House, and removing the delusion which prevailed out of doors. He therefore urged his hon. friend to take the sense of the House on this most important question. The object of the approach to a free trade, which he recommended, was to keep prices steady and low. He did not mean such low prices as would not remunerate the grower; for when the manufacturer eat his bread at all cheaper than the price at which the farmer could be remunerated, the greatest injury was done to the general interests of the country.

Mr. Attwood

remarked on some of the arguments which had been adduced by the hon. member for Bridgenorth, and by the right honourable President of the Board of Trade. The former, he said, had rested his motion mainly on the erroneous and frequently refuted opinion, that the great fluctuations in the prices of grain, which had taken place within the last thirty years, and which had produced so much evil, had been principally occasioned by the state of the corn laws, and by the difficulties and expense which had, during the war, been opposed to the importation of foreign grain. His views on this head he had explained, by stating a suppositious case, referring to another country, and by asking what the state of things would be in Holland, if a system of corn laws, such as ours, should be established there, and should prevent the importation of foreign grain into that country, depending greatly, as was well known, on such grain for its supply? And this question he had answered, by saying, that such a system would force that country to use great exertions in providing its own supplies; would cause a great diversion of capital to agriculture, a forced cultivation, by which grain would be grown on soils unfitted for its production, from whence it could only be obtained at a high cost; that from all this would arise a state of high prices; and afterwards, when the market should be supplied, an over supply would follow, and a fall of prices as great as had been the advance. Now, if the hon. member meant to maintain, as it appeared he did, that by causes such as these, a rate of prices for agricultural produce could be established in Holland, or in any other country, similar to the prices which had been established in this country during the late war, or approaching to them, either in their degree or their continuance; if he believed that, by such causes, a price of 80s. a quarter could be established for wheat, and be continued for any considerable period; in that he was entirely mistaken. By such causes as these, a nation so situated, might be exposed to great difficulties—might be made to suffer great distress, and to be involved in great calamities; but, from no such causes could a nation be made to pay, or be enabled to pay long, such a price as 80s. for a quarter of wheat. High prices for agricultural produce, arising out of scarce supplies, must be always accompanied with national distress; they could not be long endured: they might, if the scarcity were sufficiently great, inflict the most appalling calamities on a people, but they could never be, for any considerable period, established. The high prices of this country had been accompanied with no distress; it was, on the contrary, the fall of prices, which had been destructive; and these circumstances afforded irresistible proof, that the high prices of this country had not their origin in scarcity of any kind, or by any means occasioned. They were, indeed, the prices, not of scarcity, but of plenty; not of dear corn, but of cheap money; and had been accompanied with great and general prosperity.—The right honourable President of the Board of Trade had taken a somewhat juster view of this part of the subject. He had referred to the prospect which existed of an advance of prices at present taking place in this country; and had treated such prospect as an evil to be dreaded; and in that view of the subject, he (Mr. A.) perfectly concurred with him. High prices, under their present system of currency, could never again take place, except from scarcity; and they must of necessity bring with them great sufferings and dangers. If they wished for evidence of what the effects of high prices, if they again should take place, would be, they had only to refer to what their effects had formerly been, when their currency was on a footing similar to that of their present money. The year 1795 had been, for example, a year of high prices, and they had then, as now, a metal money. It was also a year of great scarcity; and a reference to what then took place, would greatly elucidate the causes of those changes which they had since witnessed. The scarcity of that year approached to famine. A greater deficiency of food had probably not been experienced, either since that time, nor for a very considerable period before it. Mr. Burke, whose Essay on Scarcity was then written, had described particularly the deficiency of the harvest of 1795 as well as of 1794. The sufferings of the lower orders were so great and severe, that amongst the upper classes it was esteemed a duty, and was so taught by bishops from the pulpit, and by judges from the bench, to refrain from the use of bread corn. A committee of that House, appointed to consider of the high price of corn, and of the sufferings of the people in consequence of it, had recommended, that the members should each sign an agreement, to economise the use of wheat-flour bread in their own families. A great decrease of marriages, a great increase of burials, a great defalcation in the revenue; all attest at that time a condition of extreme calamity amongst the poor.—Now, when they turned from this state of difficulty and distress to that high price of corn which had occasioned it, they would find that price marked no higher (he took it from the tables of the bullion committee of 1810) than 79s. 2d. for the average of the year for England and Wales, and 66s. 3d. for the average of Scotland; and in the subsequent year, 1790, the price stood no higher than 77s. 1d. for England and Wales, and 76s. 8d. for Scotland. Those were the prices in metal money, in money such as was again established, of a scarcity approaching to a famine. Those who would turn to the details of our domestic history at that time, would find abundant reason to believe, that if that degree of scarcity and that rate of prices arising out of it, had continued for a few years, a great portion of the people must have been destroyed. And yet they found a few years afterwards, when the paper money of the Restriction act was completely established, that prices advanced during the scarcity of 1801 to 100s. for the average of Scotland, and to 118s. for the average of England and Wales; and those prices endured. And a few years after that, they found prices permanently established, of 80s. and 100s. and at length of 108s. for the average price of five successive years; and those prices occasioning no distress, accompanied with no complaints, calling for no measures for reducing the consumption of bread corn, and accompnied with a prosperous and progressively increasing revenue; and an universal prosperity, extending alike to all classes of the community. Let them compare the state of the country in 1795, and the evils which the right hon. President of the Board of Trade now anticipated from high prices, with the rate of prices, and with the condition of the country in 1818, when they had established their paper money a second time. The price of wheat in 1818 was 84s. a quarter for the average of the year; and so far was that price from producing distress, that no period could be found in which the condition was more universally prosperous, of all classes of the community, or in which the revenue had so greatly improved. These were the circumstances which distinguished the prices of the late war, and of the restriction money, from the prices of scarcity arising from whatever cause. Those who told them, that the prices of the war had been occasioned by corn laws, by the cost of importation, by the necessity of growing wheat on three descriptions of soil, when it could only be grown cheaply on one; and of the too expensive cultivation of that one, would, if their whimsical theories were adopted, have other difficulties to explain. If it were admitted that it was difficulty of production, which rendered it necessary to the farmer to obtain 80s. or 100s. for his wheat; it would then require to be ex- plained from whence the labourer obtained that additional supply of money, which could alone enable him to pay for it. This would be found to be a difficulty as great as the former. There was, in truth, but one explanation which could account for this whole state of things. These prices were the prices of the cheap money of the Restriction act; which operated alike on all prices; which increased wages as well as the price of food; and which, whilst it gave high prices to the farmer, gave, at the same time, to the labourer, the means of supporting them.—He would refer to another subject which had been discussed in the course of the debate; and that was, the cost of grain abroad, and the expense of bringing it here. There appeared on most occasions, and he thought also on this, to exist a disposition amongst those who advocated a free trade in corn, to affix a higher than its just price to the price of corn abroad, and a higher cost of bringing it here than the real cost would be. Desirous of establishing a free corn trade, of assimilating the price of grain here to its price on the continent, they seemed desirous of concealing from themselves, the full extent of difficulty which must follow these measures, and what these prices were which they went to establish. He cautioned them against that error. The price of wheat in France differed now very little from what it had been for the last one or two centuries. It had differed but little from this rate during the whole of the late war; and from France wheat could he transported to Mark-lane, at an expense not exceeding that of bringing wheat from Yorkshire or Lincolnshire. It was singular to observe the statements which some of the witnesses before the agricultural committee of 1821 had given of the cost to which foreign grain was exposed on its importation. There was given, for instance, in the evidence of Mr. Tooke, a list of different heads of expense and cost to which the grain of Russia was exposed if sent to Mark-lane. But, of all these heads of expense, which altogether make a formidable appearance; of commission, and granary expenses; and insurance, and various other articles, it would, on examination, be found, that there was scarcely one, to which the British farmer when he sent his wheat to Mark-lane was not subjected equally with the foreigner. Most of those heads of cost, in the list to which he referred, bore full as heavily on British as on foreign corn; and, indeed, with the single exception of freight, in which there was a difference in favour of British grain of perhaps 1s. or 2s. or 3s. a quarter, he believed in all other respects, those expenses thus enumerated, were common both to British and foreign grain; and he mentioned this as an evidence of the activity, the blind activity he would call it, with which those who advocated the introduction of foreign grain supported their object; and the supineness of those, on the Other hand, who desired to maintain, in their own markets, a preference for the productions of their own agriculture. Convinced as he was, that the measure before the House was founded altogether on mistaken views of the subject, he should vote against it.

Mr. Monck

declared his intention of voting in favour of the present motion, because he agreed with almost all the principles which the hon. mover had stated to the House. The only mode of relief which he thought feasible was to diminish the expense of growing corn; and that could only be done by diminishing the pressure of taxation.

Colonel Wood

was of opinion, that nothing could unsettle the mind of the country more than the revival of a measure like the present, after the repeated discussion which the subject had undergone last session.

Mr. Hume

declared his intention of supporting the motion, and of taking the sense of the House upon it.

Sir T. Lethbridge

hoped the House would not adopt the proposition then before it, as it did not go far enough. He called upon ministers to give the agriculturists some support on this question, which they could not give more effectually than by putting a decided negative on the present motion.

Mr. Whitmore

said, that after the declaration he had made, he would not press his motion upon the House; but if any hon. member should insist upon a division, he should certainly give his vote, as if he had taken the division upon it himself.

Mr. S. Wortley

thought that the proposed bill did not go far enough. He was convinced that there was no safety for the agriculturist, unless the ports were kept constantly open, with a regulating duty. Though he would not pledge himself to support all the details of the present bill when introduced, he would admit, that many parts of it appeared to him deserving of consideration.

Mr. Leycester

said, he was not for high, but for low prices; but, before a reduction of prices could be made, the cost of production must be diminished; and that diminution could not take place, without a great diminution of taxation.

The House then divided:—Ayes, 25; Noes, 78. Majority against the motion, 53.

List of the Minority.
Baillie, J. Knatchbull, sir E.
Cranborne, lord Monck, J. B.
Chamberlayne, W. Ricardo, D.
Craddock, col. Rumbold, C. E.
Evans, W. Rice, T. S.
Farrand, R. Wood, col.
Fergusson, sir R. Wemyss, captain
Fitzgerald, M. Wilberforce, W.
Gladstone, J. Wood, alderman
Handley, H. Wortley, S.
Hobhouse, J. C. Wyvill, M.
James, W. TELLERS.
Jones, J. Whitmore, W.
Jervoise, G. P. Hume, J.